An Oakbank man is advocating to stop some Manitobans, such as his wife, from falling through the cracks of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility.
"She’s the love of my life," Ken Miller said of his wife of 42 years.
With that love, recently, has come a feeling of helplessness. His wife, Cheryl, suffers from secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, as well as Type 2 diabetes — making her immunocompromised. She’s 65 years old and every day Miller goes without being able to get her a COVID-19 vaccine causes his stress to build.
"My frustration is that at some point we have to get people with compromised immune systems into the line to get their shots. Don’t forget about them," Miller said from his Oakbank home.
The province has prioritized people with some health conditions — including multiple sclerosis — to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, however that is only for people under the age of 65. Saturday, the province updated the eligibility for the general population to include anyone 67 and older, or any First Nations people who are 47 or older.
The eligibility criteria, combined with restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine, leaves Cheryl Miller in a void: too old for one, not old enough for another. Every day Cheryl isn’t vaccinated is another day she risks catching COVID-19, he says. He’s worried her outcome would be severe.
Compounding that stress is some level of self-inflicted guilt. At 69, despite being completely healthy and a regular athlete, he has already been able to schedule his own vaccination appointment for March 30.
Last week, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization advised that the AstraZeneca vaccine could be safely administered to people over the age of 65. This came after concerns had been raised that the vaccine could possibly be connected to some adverse effects involving blood clots.
"It’s not that we’re flip-flopping, it’s just that we try to monitor the evidence," NACI Chair Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh said at a press briefing last week.
Health Canada has yet to amend its recommendations to reflect the NACI’s most recent advice, so in the meantime the AstraZeneca vaccine is only being distributed to those under the age of 65 in Canada.
Canadian public health officials have remained steadfast in their endorsement of the AstraZeneca vaccine and Dr. Teresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, says no adverse clotting events have occurred in the country that can be linked to this vaccine.
"Health Canada is aware of reports of serious adverse events in Europe following immunization with the AstraZeneca vaccine, but wants to reassure Canadians that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh its risks," Tam said in a press conference last week.
"There is currently no indication that the vaccine caused the observed event."
France has even reversed the upper age restriction on the AstraZeneca vaccine and implemented an advisory that it only be given to people above the age of 55. Miller knows that with the age limit for vaccine eligibility is dropping quickly in Manitoba, and that it won’t be long before his wife is vaccinated and can enjoy the protection that gives. But he wishes she hadn’t been a part of a group of people that fell through the health policy cracks.
"The disease is so debilitating that they have no energy left to advocate for themselves," he said. "OK, so then I’m going to advocate for sure for my wife. She’s the love of my life."
Sarah Lawrynuik reports on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press climate change reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.